Saturday, August 31, 2013

12 July 2011 – Srinagar

[Part of my write up for the Leh Bike Trip]

We didn't waste too much time in Kargil. It was going to be a long ride to Srinagar through the deadly Zoji la pass today! Quickly after leaving Kargil we came across this odd board on the side of the road.

(not a care for our lives)

Passerbys told us that the hill behind the one you see to the right was Pakistan and they had bunkers up there with guns pointing at the road we were driving on! So the next obvious thing to do would be to park my bike next to the board and take pictures of it.

Within half an hour we had reached the army camp at Drass, where we stopped at the war memorial for breakfast. Maggi and sandwiches were had quickly, there was some official practice for some ceremony and we left before that started.
(Lakshya - to get out of here safely)

That's Tiger Hill in Drass. This is the second coldest permanent inhabited spot in the world after Siberia, with temperatures dropping to −45 °C in winter. We stopped at the war memorial for breakfast at the army canteen. Didn't bother with any of the exhibits! Kashmir is every bit as beautiful as it is made out to be.

("Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin asto" This was taken about a kilometer ahead of Draupadi Kund.)

It didn't take us long to climb up to Zoji La. This place is the equivalent of Rohtang on the Manali side. The roads are equally bad but we did not see the worst of it as it wasn't raining.  

(Approaching Zoji La)

Just before we reached the top, we encountered this couple carrying some goods over to Sonmarg.

(Couple at Zoji La)

At Zoji La the road was closed because of some blasting work and we lost two hours. There were 3-4 other bike groups stuck with us. An army van filed with gun carrying Jawans in the front. From the spot we were stuck at we could spot Baltal and it's many helipads below in the valley.

(The zig zag routes descending Zoji La)

Baltal is a huge camping ground which is used as an alternate starting point for the Amarnath yatra. It looks like a mess of tarpaulin sheets from up here.
(Baltal camping ground)

(Man waiting with us for the road to clear up)

After the blasting was done, the army convoys got first preference to cross over. And then bikes on either side and only then the cars. Somehow I landed up in front of the group and there was a group of 10-12 bullets following me. Kunal later told me that the scene was brilliant, bikes in a line, all equally spaced. No pics :(

The next town was Sonamarg, very beautiful again. We had a late lunch at a dhaba and quickly left to be in Srinagar before it shut down for the night. I would count the ride from here to the outskirts of Srinagar as one of the saddest I've ever done. There were two army men stationed every 100 meters throughout the route. This is the same route that is taken by the Amarnath yatris and the air was very tense. It is unfathomable that we could make other Indian citizens live their lives in such conditions.

At the outskirts of Srinagar there was an option to bypass the highway and go along a less frequented highway with little villages along the way. Being different from the yatra route, this was what Kashmir was actually like. I felt better again. We reached Srinagar at around 7.
(Dal lake and it's houseboats)

Srinagar at night seemed like just another city but with a huge lake plonked in the middle. There were a lot of touts offering services. We saw a shabby houseboat where the owner tried amazing selling strategies including parading his wife and kids and playing the emotional card. But being Mumbaikars, we walked out comfortably and settled for hotel Hayat near Dalgate. The place was clean and not too expensive in the end, though he did not reduce the amount even by a rupee. Dinner was at Hotel Shamiyana - which was good though a little too pricey! I picked up dry fruits from a shop, later my dad informed me that I had picked them at 1/4th the price he would have paid in Mumbai!

After dinner, I went down to chat with the owner and his friend Tikku, who ran a taxi in the city. His stories were absolutely crazy and only half-believable. He gave me a two hour talk about the city and what we should be doing and what to avoid in the road ahead. It is strange how we don't really feel tired at the end of these days in spite of the long hours spent on the bike.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Location scouting in the Himalayas

I was just watching some Rajesh Khanna-Hema Malini song on television. The song was set in either Himachal or (what is now) Uttarakhand. It had a mountain stream and snow-clad mountains in the background. I always wonder where they had shot these movies in the 60s and 70s and how much they would have changed now.

Some places like Sonamarg or Gulmarg are easy to spot because of the mountains around but some movies seem to be shot at random villages on the way to Shimla, Manali, etc. It would be awesome if I manage to find the equivalent of a location scouter of the 70s and talk to him about his favourite places, maybe even document the talk and make a book of it :D